An herbal liniment is a liquid made with alcohol, oil, or water, and beneficial herbs and essential plant oils. The liquid is intended to be used as a topical rub to soothe aches and pains, refresh the skin, and stop bug bites or itching. Athletes have used herbal liniments for centuries as an after-sports rub. In alternative and holistic medicines, especially in Asian medicine, the use of an herbal liniment is highly respected to ease the pain of arthritis, bruises, strains, sprains, and sore muscles.
As a painkilling liniment, a body rub may contain a variety of ingredients. One brand, called Tiger Balm liniment, contains the familiar ingredients of menthol, oil of wintergreen, lavender, and eucalyptus, in a mineral oil base. These ingredients are often found in a painkilling liniment or cream, since menthol, eucalyptus, and wintergreen all create a cooling sensation while increasing circulation to the area where the rub is applied. In addition, practitioners of alternative medicine claim that oil of lavender heals bruises, muscle soreness and sprains, as well as external skin problems like minor burns and scrapes.
Zheng gu shui liniment is a Chinese preparation that has been used since ancient times. It is said to improve circulation, reduce swelling, heal sprains and bruises, and regenerate broken bones. The body rub was designed for use by martial arts practitioners. Though the ingredients may vary, this herbal liniment usually has an alcohol base and contains ginseng, ginger, camphor and menthol oils, cinnamon bark, croton seed, angelica root, and inula flower.
A homemade liniment can be made as a poultice for inflamed joints or insect stings. Mix together 1 oz. (28 g) powdered myrrh, 1/2 oz. (14 g) powdered golden seal, 1/4 oz. (7 g) cayenne pepper, four drops cinnamon essence, and 1 pint (473 ml) rubbing alcohol; these ingredients can be found in a natural foods or holistic medicine shop. Store the herbal liniment in the refrigerator until used. A poultice of these ingredients can be applied several times a day until the pain is relieved.
Each of these types of liniments contains ingredients that can cause irritation or an allergic reaction in some people with sensitive skin. Before rubbing large areas with an herbal liniment, test on a small area first and note any negative reaction in the skin or deeper tissues. Most preparations should list directions and dosage for use, and these instructions should be followed carefully to avoid skin reactions over time. If in doubt, the patient should check with a doctor before using the medicine.